Way back in 2001, a concert began in a small town in Germany. And it never stopped. It’s still going, in fact. Want to attend? No rush — the performance won’t end until the year 2640.
The virtually never-ending performance is a 639-year rendition of John Cage’s 1985 keyboard composition “As Slow As Possible.” It wasn’t written to drag on for so long, however. The first time “As Slow As Possible” was performed, it lasted less than a half-hour. The next time, it crept up to more than an hour. Then, wouldn’t you know, the Germans sent the avant-garde piece flying right off the rails.
In 1997, a group known as the John Cage Orgelprojekt (John Cage Organ Project) got together to ask a few quasi-existential questions, like just how slow is “slow?” And how do we define “possible?” Cage gave no answers, so the group decided the only way to come to a satisfactory resolution was to set up a 639-year performance of “As Slow As Possible” in St. Burchardi Church in Halberstadt, Germany. Obviously!
They chose the seemingly arbitrary length and location because, “In 1361, Halberstadt built the world’s first grand organ, a block organ. This organ stood in the cathedral and had, for the first time, a 12-tone keyboard; to this day, this type of keyboard is in use. The cradle of modern music was thus in Halberstadt.” If you do the math, that organ would have been 639 years old at the turn of the millennium in 2000, right before the world’s slowest show began.
An automated organ with six pipes was specially built for the six-century performance in the church, preventing some unlucky musician and twenty-four of their generations from being forced to toil at the keyboard for their entire lives. After the “Organ²/ASLSP” concert officially began on Sept. 5, 2001, more than a year of silence slowly crept by. Then, on Feb. 5, 2003, the first note was struck. And the note … just kept going. For an entire year. That’s 8,760 hours, or 525,600 minutes. You could watch 26,280 reruns of “The Simpsons” in the same amount of time.
So far, a grand total of thirteen notes have been played, each as slowly as possible, with the latest note sounding way back in 2013. That note, or chord rather, is still playing. You haven’t missed much.
You can listen to the performance for free here. That droning sound you hear will keep going until Sept. 5, 2020, when the next note will be played.
Don’t want to wait? Is the suspense killing you? You can get a preview of the score, along with the dates of upcoming note changes, on the John Cage Organ Project website. Or better yet, just speed the danged thing up.
Musician Johannes Kreidler banged out an “as fast as possible” rendition of “As Slow As Possible” on YouTube, powering through the entire piece in a mere thirty-six seconds. That’ll save you approximately 20,151,503,961 seconds of listening. What will you do with all the time?
Originally published at http://the-delve.com on May 10, 2019.